I was a good girl who had nothing left to lose, literally. My ex-boyfriend had stolen everything. except a non-refundable plane ticket to Paris, which was supposed to be the trip of a lifetime where that deadbeat was supposed to propose at the top of the Eiffel Tower. So, I got on the plane without him.
After all that, it was understandable that when I started drinking at the Buddha Bar, things got a little out of hand.
Luckily, a man intervened. He was so ripped that I could see every thick muscle of his abs, obliques, chest, and arms through the tight tee shirt he was wearing. He towered over the guys who were bothering me, and they backed off.
I took him back to my hotel because I was full of drunken, bad decisions that night.
The last thing I needed was a man who wanted to save me when I was trying to do all the wrong things.
When the man had arrived a few minutes earlier, Dree had noticed him as soon as he’d touched the bar, a few people away from where she’d been sitting. She was pretty sure half the people in the Buddha Bar had watched him cross the room and order a drink before they broke his spell and went back to their own, now-troubled conversations, but they were still sneaking glances at him.
The tall man had smiled easily while he ordered a drink, his gaze serene while he surveyed the crowd. He was really tall, too. His head stuck up above everyone else’s like they were a black-and-blond ocean and he was swimming with his head held high out of the waves, lest he soak his dark, curling hair that swayed over his forehead and neck. He looked like he was a white guy with a tan, or he might be olive-skinned, like from somewhere near the Mediterranean Sea. Something about him made her feel like a fish drawn to an irresistible lure.
When he twisted, turning toward Dree, his white tee shirt pulled taut over his broad, muscular chest and shoulders. The pristine cotton clung to the rounds of his massive pectorals, the ripples of his abdominal muscles, and his obliques that cut diagonal slices from his ribs to the waistband of his trousers.
Oh, somebody worked out.
Dree had to respect the time in the gym, even though she did not go to the gym nearly as much as he obviously did.
Or ever, really. The hospital where she worked had a gym, and she had been meaning to start going there for three years.
The man’s dark dress pants contrasted oddly with his plain white tee, which looked like it might be an undershirt. If it had clung to his skin any more tightly, she would have thought he had just won a wet-tee-shirt contest. She could see every one of his eight-pack of abdominal muscles, even those top ones nestled under his pecs.
When Dree leaned back to observe the guy’s backside, his legs were long and thick with muscle.
Between his incongruous clothes, tousled black curls, and sleepy blinks, the guy looked like he’d left his suit jacket, shirt, and tie on someone’s bedroom floor and sauntered into the bar for a drink.
That man could throw his clothes on Déchirée Dree’s floor anytime.
She was so drunk. This was not like her, but tonight, anything seemed possible. Everything seemed possible.
She wanted to touch him. The tequila shots she’d sucked down made her body feel languorous and heavy, and she wanted a tall, strong, sexy man to touch her, drive her backward with the warmth of his male body, and move above her and inside her with slow, sinuous thrusts, his faint masculine musk surrounding her and driving her out of her mind.
The deliberate way that man lifted his drink to his mouth—when he touched the highball glass to his full, lower lip before he tilted it, the liquid flowed in, and he swallowed—made Dree think he would be incredible in bed, that he’d take his time, that he’d know what he was doing to her.
The inside of her mouth watered like she wanted to lick him.
And he was still staring back at her, his dark eyes serious and almost wary.
He took the glass away from his mouth like he was stripping off his shirt for her to see his naked flesh.
Dree was leaning so far toward him that she nearly fell off her chair.
A new guy inserted himself into her view, jamming himself into the narrow space between Dree and the petite, judgy woman sitting next to her.
Dree looked up.
The new guy’s red silk shirt was unbuttoned to his waist, exposing a thatch of black chest hair. “Bonsoir.”
“Because I have to change my life! I’m stupid and gullible and pathetic, and I have to stop. I have to be something else. I have nothing left, nothing, so I cut my hair and got on the plane to Paris because I’d never been to Paris or London or anywhere, ever in my whole life. At least I’m going to have this night, this one night, this one night in Paris, to remember for the rest of my life!”
“It occurs to me you may not remember much of it,” Max mused. He was still watching the group over by the streetlamp, and they were still watching him. The lamplight shone like a yellow crust on the big guy’s white skin.
The little blonde said, “And if I have to screw every guy in that place to change my life, I will!”
She was drunk-adamant and sounded desperate, so he needed to drunk-argue with her until she came around. “You want to get laid at any cost, and yet you’re walking away from a man who wants to take you home tonight.”
“Where?” she demanded, throwing her arms to the sides and nearly stumbling again in her vehemence.
“Right here.” Max wasn’t sure how much longer he could keep this up. “Me, right here.”
“Nuh-uh,” she said, her head hanging and wagging. “You’re a ten, and I’m a six when I have on wedding make-up and it’s a good hair day. And I don’t have any of that. I used a Sharpie marker for mascara.”
He took a long look at her, allowing himself to savor the view of the roundness of her breasts and hips, her narrow wasp waist, and her full thighs stretching that bright scarlet dress that drew him like a waving red flag.
Max’s friends had warned him, many times, that he had a bad habit of getting involved with women who were ragged bundles of waving red flags.
He smiled as he allowed himself to thoroughly enjoy examining her lush body, the swells of her visible in the streetlamp’s glow. To be any more form-fitting, that dress would’ve had to have been painted on. “I don’t think you’re a six.”
She argued, “A guy like you wouldn’t want a woman like me. Only a pathetic loser would go home with me. I could never get a guy like you.”
Pure frustration with her inebriated illogic and the fact that she would not get in the damn car so he could take her someplace safe broke his willpower.
Max grabbed that blonde with the spectacular tits around her bendy waist, yanked her against himself, and kissed her until she melted in his arms.
Augustine had been watching her quietly, almost without moving. When she finished talking, his thick, black eyelashes rose as his eyes widened slightly, and his lips parted. He was perfectly still for a moment, and then he shook his head just one time as he pulled his wallet from his hip pocket and thumbed the bills inside, counting.
Dree wasn’t sure what she was supposed to do at that point, so she didn’t do anything. Okay, whatever.
He removed a thick sheaf of bills from his wallet and placed them on the dresser beside where he was standing. Quite a lot of the currency seemed to be green, which meant they were one-hundred-euro notes, but at least two of them were yellow two-hundred-euro notes.
Weird. “What are you—”
He said, “I apologize. I didn’t understand the situation last night. That should cover my tab, right?”
Dree squinted at him. She had missed something. “Your—your tab?”
Augustine resumed tearing a pastry apart and slathering it with butter and jam. “For last night. I apologize for leaving without settling the bill, but all’s well that ends well.”
“Wait, the bill?” He thought—oh, there was no way he thought she was a— “Are you kidding me?”
He thumbed through his wallet again and added another green euro note to the stack. “Is that enough? Extra charge for the monster, huh? It’s fine. I’ve paid that before.”
Dree yelled at him, “Auggie, I am not a prostitute!”
He paused and swallowed the bite he was chewing. “I don’t understand.”
“I wasn’t telling you a sob story to get money out of you. I was being open and honest and vulnerable.” Anger swelled in her throat. “I am not a ‘temporarily inconvenienced millionaire’ who’s asking you for money. I’ve just been poor my whole life, and now I’m poor again. But that doesn’t mean I’m a wh—” She swallowed because she couldn’t quite say the horrible word. “A wh—A lady of the evening!”
“I apologize again,” Augustine said with one eyebrow arched high. “Should I take the money back?”
“Yes! Yes, you should take it back! I’m not a prostitute, and you shouldn’t try to pay me for what we did last night. I would never—I would absolutely never—”
And she stopped, blinking, and looked at the money lying on top of the dresser.
Augustine hadn’t moved to take it back yet.
When Dree was in nursing school, a lot of her friends had danced on tables a couple of times when they couldn’t quite make it to the end of the month on the pittance from student loans they lived on. They had joked about blowing guys for beer money, but she had thought they hadn’t actually done it.
Now she was less sure.
That was a lot of money up there. When she got back to Phoenix, she wouldn’t have enough money to make rent on the first of next month, and she didn’t have a bed in her bare apartment. She wasn’t sure Francis hadn’t broken her lease to get at her deposit, too. She might have nowhere to live when she got back. Francis had cleaned out all Dree’s bank accounts, even the one she shared with her sister, which was the most important one.
If Dree ended up bashing Francis’s head in with a fireplace poker or a branding iron, that would be why. Stealing money from her sister Mandi and Mandi’s kid was just frickin’ reprehensible.
And Holy Mary, Mother of God, Christmas was coming. People in her family depended on her cash Christmas presents to get them through because they’d used their food money to buy presents for their kids and other people. If she didn’t have that—
Her chest knotted.
Dree should take Augustine’s money.
She’d been stupid for protesting it. That cash he’d laid up there without a second thought could go a long way toward food for the next few days and then helping her start a new life.
He asked, “Should I take it back?”